Since the release of her breakthrough SoundCloud single 'Ocean Eyes' in 2016, Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas have truly set a new standard for experimental pop. The release of Billie's debut album brought her no less than six Grammy Awards in 2020, and she won three more the following year. Now, Billie returns with a new hair colour, new attitude and a 16 track sophomore album. Gemma Cockrell offers her thoughts.
On Happier Than Ever, one of the most anticipated albums of 2021, Billie Eilish demonstrates that she has matured a great deal since her debut WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?. This is immediately apparent from the opening track Getting Older, with the lyric “I’m getting older, I think I’m aging well”. Although it is not the most exciting song on the album, it sets the scene for the record and provides a bit of insight into Billie’s mindset whilst writing it.
"(Billie) frequently laments on the not-so-pretty aspects of her immense popularity"
Perhaps it is this newfound maturity that has unfortunately led to the loss of some of the most appealing and exciting elements of Billie’s previous music. Her character and personality do shine through on a few moments during the album – the sarcastic quip of “Stop, what the hell are you talking about” on Therefore I Am, for example – but these moments are much rarer than on her debut. Happier Than Ever also has fewer catchy hooks than its predecessor.
So that leaves the question: what is there to like about this album? The answer is still a great deal. The biggest hook on the album comes in the form of the track Lost Cause, which was released as a single prior to the album. The lyrics explores Billie’s abandonment of an ex-boyfriend, another key recurrent theme of the album, which leaves her feeling more confident (and happier) than ever.
Alongside her relationship tales and newfound maturity, Billie’s criticisms of fame also emerge on many tracks throughout Happier Than Ever. Whether she’s having to make her lovers sign non-disclosure agreements on NDA, or commenting on the press’ obsessive criticism of her figure on Not My Responsibility and OverHeated, she frequently laments on the not-so-pretty aspects of her immense popularity. Not My Responsibility is a spoken-word piece that Billie uploaded onto YouTube back in May 2020. While it is not a track that would make much sense in a shuffled playlist on streaming services, it flows seamlessly as an intro to the track OverHeated, and provides a welcome interlude on the album.
"With the instrumentation and vocals both at full intensity, the song (Happier Than Ever) is miles away from her usual understated style"
Each track serves its purpose on the track-list, and it’s 56-minute run-time passes by effortlessly. However, order of the tracks is by no means perfect. The penultimate track, Happier Than Ever, builds to a euphoric crescendo, going beyond anything Billie has ever released before. With the instrumentation and vocals both at full intensity, the song is miles away from her usual understated style – in the best way possible. This would have been a spectacular moment to close the album on, but Billie herself stated that she didn’t wish to end the album on an angry note. She instead opted to place Male Fantasy afterwards, which is by no means a bad song. It is, in fact, very beautiful in its simplicity and gentleness, and satisfyingly circles back to the themes discussed at the beginning of the album on Getting Older. However, Male Fantasy seems slightly underwhelming in comparison to the massive title track.
Happier Than Ever is designed to be listened to through earphones, and listening through a good pair is necessary to hear each detail with increased intimacy and intensity. Like all of her previous releases, Billie’s sophomore album was produced by her brother Finneas, whose production is as intricate and enticing as ever. From his innovative sampling (including the bark of Billie’s pitbull on I Didn’t Change My Number) to the insane flip of choir hymn into dark-pop beat on GOLDWING, he is on top of his game.
Happier Than Ever doesn’t quite reach the same heights as WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?, but this isn’t surprising. Billie’s debut completely changed the climate of pop music, and it was unlikely that she’d be able to follow it up with something equally as game-changing. What Happier Than Ever does well is demonstrate Billie’s personal development over the past two years. It presents a young woman growing into herself, whilst the whole world readily watches on.
Written by: Gemma Cockrell
Edited by: Elliot Fox
In article images courtesy of Billie Eilish and Finneas via Facebook. Video courtesy of Billie Eilish via YouTube.